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More than 50 female faculty met with top administrators Wednesday to discuss their concerns about the declining number of female tenure offers. Some said they walked away dismayed by the response they received from University President Lawrence H. Summers and Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby.
The meeting addressed the concerns raised in a letter signed by 26 professors to Summers and Kirby in June. While 36 percent of tenure offers went to women in 2000-2001, the last year of former University President Neil L. Rudenstine, that number has declined in each successive year under Summers, down to 13 percent of last year’s 32 offers.
At Wednesday’s two-hour lunch meeting, held in the Barker Center, the faculty presented a two-page proposal for improving the University’s efforts to recruit a diverse faculty, including the reinstatement of a diversity dean—a position that was existed up until a few years ago.
Susan R. Suleiman, Dillon professor of the civilization of France and professor of comparative literature, wrote in an e-mail that the group also suggested Summers and Kirby could do more.
“Harvard should go out of its way not only to hire but also to retain its senior women faculty, making the same efforts as it does to retain its male ‘stars,’” she wrote.
While both sides agreed the meeting was cooperative, some faculty present at the meeting said they came away disenchanted. One professor at the meeting said that some faculty felt “considerable concern” about the refusal of Summers and Kirby to implement further institutional reforms.
Some faculty who spoke to The Crimson asked to remain anonymous to avoid undermining their ability to work with administrators.
Suleiman wrote that while many professors supported the idea of a diversity dean, they tended to agree with Summers’ assertion in the meeting that professors would not want to be considered affirmative action hires.
“That idea did not appeal to our two guests, but they assured the group that they thought it would be more effective to have commitment (and pressure, if necessary) coming from them and from the divisional deans,” she wrote.
Summers said that the meeting had been “very constructive” and that “obviously this is a matter for people at every level...[and] this is something we’ll all be addressing together.”
“It’s obviously going to be a major focus as we recruit this year and beyond,” he said, “and I’m very optimistic based on where we are right now that we’ll make quite a number of outstanding appointments that contribute to our diversity over the years.”
Kirby said he would write to the Faculty about the issue of female hires, and that they would discuss it this fall.
“It was very helpful to hear directly from colleagues about their concerns,” he said yesterday. “I listened to all their advice.”
Another professor at the meeting said both sides showed “goodwill.”
“Whether all of the suggestions that the caucus made will be implemented is an open question,” the professor said. “I think they were heard.”But a third faculty member at the meeting said that “the post-meeting reaction was one of disappointment.”
“President Summers didn’t seem to want to take up the challenge of recognizing that this is an important problem and make the issue his,” she said. “A lot of women faculty feel that this is one area of excellence that Harvard should proudly exercise leadership in, the way that other universities have.”
The presence of female presidents at peer institutions like MIT, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University gives them an advantage in dealing with the issue, according to the third professor.
But Summers disagreed that Harvard is disadvantaged, noting that the University has three female deans—“three times as many as it’s ever had in its history”—and four female vice presidents, out of six.
Summers said that the new mechanism implemented last month in response to the letter—by which divisional deans can seek out potential minority and female hires who do not fit cleanly into one of the University’s departments—was an “important institutional change that will enable much better tracking of University-wide objectives in this area than we’ve had before.”
The third professor said that while those efforts are important and serious, by themselves they do not represent an aggressive enough response.
“We feel that the problem is serious enough that one would want to put in place several kinds of mechanisms,” the third professor said. “In terms of symbolic politics, it would really be wise of him to want to signify very clearly his engagement with the problem.”
The first professor said Summers and Kirby “weren’t very clear on any specific things to be done” to address the issue.
“The basic message in many ways was let us figure out what to do and do it on our own terms,” she said.
The first professor added Summers “didn’t want to appear to be appointing people for demographic reasons.” She said that some faculty were “mystified” that Summers would suggest that not enough potential female faculty would meet Harvard’s standards.
“It’s been many years since anyone at Harvard (anyone who is moderately enlightened) has implied that tenuring more women would be fulfilling a quota or giving in to pressure,” Nancy Tobin ’49, research chair for the Committee for the Equality of Women at Harvard, wrote in an e-mail.
But Summers said that interpretation was a misunderstanding and that it is possible to recruit a diverse faculty.
—Laura L. Krug contributed to the reporting of this story. —Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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